Wish list for White House reading

antiquarian_booksPeter Steinfels asked several scholars a bold, even-handed question for his Beliefs column in Saturday’s New York Times: Which one book would you recommend to President Bush and Sen. John Kerry? (Beret tip: Philocrites.)

Here are two of the better-aimed pinpricks:

Stephen L. Carter, professor of law at Yale Law School, recommended that Mr. Kerry read Mark DeWolfe Howe’s “The Garden and the Wilderness” (out of print), which he called a “flawed but still important book” that might correct the senator’s “misconception of the separation of church and state as designed to protect the weak, trembling, helpless government apparatus from the powerful and terrifying power of religion.” Professor Carter added, “This error of history and analysis would have silenced, to pick a name at random, Martin Luther King Jr.”

For the president’s understanding of “the historical background and vast complexity of the difficult conflicts between religion and state,” Jonathan D. Sarna, a professor of American Jewish history at Brandeis University, recommended “the great case book” by John T. Noonan Jr. and Edward McGlynn Gaffney Jr., titled “Religious Freedom: History, Cases, and Other Material on the Interactions of Religion and Government” (West, 2001). Professor Sarna especially commended Judge Noonan’s “Ten Commandments on Religious Freedom in America.”

My recommendations are decidedly less scholastic.

For Bush: Spiritual Perspectives on America’s Role as Superpower by the editors of SkyLight Paths (2003).

For Kerry: Between Heaven & Hell: A Dialog Somewhere Beyond Death with John F. Kennedy, C. S. Lewis & Aldous Huxley by Peter Kreeft (InterVarsity, 1982).

Other ideas are welcome here. Any suggestions for Ralph Nader?

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  • Brian Lewis

    It sounds like Stephen Carter misreads King’s vision of the church in society.

    Take, for example, this famous King quote.

    “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must

    be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an

    irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”

    -Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963.

  • Marinda R

    I think that’s exactly what Carter was referring to and one of the quotes he wouldn’t want silenced; the “error of history and analysis” is the mistaken notion that separation of church and state is supposed to protect the state from the church.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    For Nader: “Don Quixote”?

  • http://www.wildfaith.com Darrell Grizzle

    For Ralph Nader, I would recommend a new book by the retired Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta: “Why Bush Must Go: A Bishop’s Faith-Based Challenge” by Bennett J. Sims.


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